You Need to Know This About “Buying” a Second Passport

29-Jul-2014

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By Bob Bauman JD, International Living,
Big-spending, deep-in-debt governments everywhere are looking for money. So national tax collectors have dusted off variations on an old scheme they hope will attract foreigners and bring in cash. It’s called “economic citizenship”—better described as “passports for sale.”
Thirty years ago, a few governments began offering foreigners passports for a price. In return for a jobs-creating investment or a lump-sum payment, the foreigner gets a right to immediate residence, a valid passport, and a new home country.
Until recently, only two nations belonged to this exclusive club for any length of time, the Commonwealth of Dominica and St. Kitts & Nevis. Austria is a third possibility, but far more restrictive.
But an international “passports-for-sale” bandwagon is now rolling, with needy countries jumping aboard. Lithuania and Slovakia have citizenship programs in which residence requirements may be waived for approved investors. Poland has something similar. Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary have joined the club. Montenegro adopted such a program in 2010, then promptly suspended it because of EU concerns about possible corruption and abuse.
Apart from the cost and reliability of the passport you buy, perhaps the single most important consideration is whether both the passport and the second citizenship are fully legal in every respect. That may seem obvious, but in this age of massive Internet fraud, you can find thousands of bogus passport offers by Googling “second passport” or “economic citizenship.”
A few countries actually do have provisions in their law that give the head of government, or other ministers, discretion to grant citizenship to foreign nationals in rare, exceptional cases.
Even then, if criminal bribery is involved, the person acquiring the passport may face revocation of this citizenship after a later political change in the issuing government. Persons with such documents frequently are subject to blackmail, being forced to pay further “fees” later on. That is why it is imperative that second citizenship be firmly based upon clear, proven provisions in the existing law of the nation issuing it.
The prospective second-passport client most at risk is one lured into an “instant” or “immediate” passport deal that promises to waive residence requirements and grant quick citizenship. This bait is a favorite lure for unsuspecting and ill-informed buyers.
In this age of instant communications, it takes only hours—certainly no more than a few days—before customs and immigration officials worldwide know when a passport is called into question.
What about residence? First, it should not be confused with full citizenship. Rather, residence is the right to live in a particular place. And it is granted by most countries to wealthy foreign investors and to other select individuals the government considers desirable.
For example, in January 2014 the British overseas territory of Turks & Caicos revamped and reissued its residence program. The tropical islands are only two-hours’ flight time from Atlanta and three hours from New York. Any foreigner willing to invest $300,000 to $1 million in a business, construction of a new home, or in renovation of a distressed property there gets the right to immediate residence. After five years of residence, the investing foreigner is eligible to apply for naturalization as a British Overseas Territory Citizen, and to receive a BOTC passport with visa-free travel to over 100 countries. That also opens the door to residence in the U.K. and all 28 EU nations.
Uruguay is another country that offers immediate residence and citizenship in as little as three years, without requiring investment. Canada also has a similar residence-to-passport time frame for investors.
If you have an interest in acquiring economic citizenship, keep in mind the old Latin phrase caveat emptor—let the buyer beware.

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